Category Archive: Mentoring

Apr 06

Tutoring Services: Outcomes and Experiences

In my seven years of tutoring STEM courses, I have witnessed every type of student imaginable – the smart, the go-getter, the “do enough to get by,” the last-minute, the “I just want answers,” and the downright lazy. The one thing these students have in common is that they all realize, sometimes a little too late, they need extra academic help, and that’s when the Tutoring Services (TS) staff members put on their superhero thinking cap(e)s, swoop in with their pens and pencils, and save them (well, most of them) from drowning in a sea of F’s, D’s, and WF’s. Realistically speaking, given the high tutor-to-student ratio, one can only imagine that there are academic casualties in this line of work. The casualties are usually those students who lack the determination to seek tutoring help, those who wait until the hours before an exam to request a lesson in weeks worth of material, and others who just simply choose not do the work. This landscape  of motivational challenges is the honest reality that my tutoring heroes and I have come — however uncomfortably — to accept.

For many of our students, even the “downright lazy” and the “I just want answers,” if they come in early enough to get help and we can identify into which of those groups they fall, we can usually help them improve their scores. Sometimes, this improvement reaches as high as a full letter grade.   How early ,then, should a student come in for help in order to fully benefit from the sessions? In the Spring semester of 2014, the Gainesville Campus (GC) tutoring staff collected first and second test grades from a number of GC math sections and cross-referenced them with the data obtained from the login computers in the tutoring labs. The results of the research showed many differences between the two groups across all math sections: Lab students and non-Lab students. Lab students are those who showed up for tutoring help, and non-Lab students are those did not. Let’s look at the results for the first and second Math1111 (College Algebra) test grades for the two groups (figure 1).

hyunh_image

Figure 1: Test 1 and Test 2 grades for Spring14. Sample size (N) = 244 for Test 1 and 214 for Test 2.

According to the results, the Lab students scored higher than the non-Lab students on both tests – an average of a 6.9-point difference on the first test and a 10.8-point difference on the second test. In addition, the Lab students had a 5.7-point improvement (76.2 to 81.9) between the first and second tests, while the non-Lab students scored only a 1.8-point improvement (69.3 to 71.1).  Obviously, one reasonable explanation for the grade improvements in both groups after the first test might include a realization on the students’ parts that they needed to study more for the second test.  The Lab students, however, improved their grades significantly more than the non-Lab students.

What could account for this major improvement in this group? One observation that I have made during my time working in the labs is that, once a student gets the courage to seek tutoring help and has a positive experience with it, s/he is more likely to return. My staff and I make a concerted effort at the beginning of each semester to explain to all new lab students the importance of staying on top of their math assignments and the vital importance of seeking help early. The sooner a student comes in and seeks tutoring help, the more likely s/he is going to improve his/her grade. Of course, we would like for students to come in as soon as the semester starts, but that is not a realistic expectation for our wide range of students. Based on the results of our small study, we should intervene as soon as the first tests are given and graded in order to obtain favorable grade improvement outcomes and decrease the D/W/F rate in Math1111. The findings call for an intervention program to be put in place to help our students, and future discussions regarding such a program need to take place between departments and administrators.

Along the spectrum of student types, the last-minute and the “I just want answers” are the students who contribute most to the D/W/F rates, and they are the most interesting. They often come in just hours before a scheduled test and expect undivided attention and one-on-one tutoring. They seem to want tutors to use magic USB cables that transfer information from tutor brains to theirs. Or, at the very least, they expect to quickly input the information for quicky output on a single test, rather than understanding that true, deep learning comes from the scaffolded and practical instruction in the classroom. My tutors are patient with these students, encouraging them to make more frequent and early visits to the labs for tutoring help for the next test. Some of the students seem to change their ways, but most do not show up for help until, one again, just hours before their tests. Tutoring sessions with these students are usually ineffective, and, for the student, quite frustrating.  My tutors understand that explaining the purposes and strategies of tutoring and of learning is a crucial component of the their interactions with all students; if the students can grasp how and why they’re learning the material, they may be more likely to seek assistance in their areas of struggle.

In addition to being tutors, TS staff members also serve as counselors and advisors. Over a period of weeks of obtaining tutoring help, many students often become more comfortable around specific tutors, and they begin to create preferences. Building a great rapport between students and tutors through sharing personal math experiences is fundamental in Lab-student retention. I believe that my tutoring staff is incredibly attentive to each student’s needs and learning style. The tutors do really care about how much the tutees actually get out of the tutoring sessions. As a tutor, it is an amazingly satisfying feeling when a student returns and tells you that s/he did well on a test because you had helped him/her to prepare. Moments like that are what make a tutoring job unbelievably fulfilling.

UNG Tutoring Resources and Information

 

Oct 27

The Benefits of Faculty Writing Groups

Grab your “to do” list. Whether it’s mental, handwritten, or online, the list probably includes grading papers, preparing lessons for the week, and attending committee meetings (among other things). Have you scheduled any time this week for your own research and writing? Most of us don’t, but can we afford not to? As teachers, we spend a lot of time explaining to students the importance of planning their time, particularly in regards to research and writing. We encourage them to understand their role in the academic community, as thinkers, writers, and readers. Some of us even model this process through in-class peer review workshops where students read and comment on each other’s work.

The question is: do we take our own advice? Are we the kind of professors who would be forced to admit that we prefer that students “do as we say, not as we do”? If you are in academia, writing is an essential part of your job—whether you are writing a textbook on quantum physics or a blog about gender dynamics in the media. Before you send that work to a publisher or post it online, do you workshop it with your peers? Do you get their feedback? Do you do multiple revisions, or are you scrambling to pull it together at the last minute because you have so many other duties (not the least of which is teaching)? Quite often, I find that even the best of us do exactly what we tell our students NOT to do—wait until the last minute and/or hover over our desks in the dark of night (as if writing were a solitary process!).

The point is—writing groups are a win-win. Besides modeling the academic community for our students, peer writing groups can help us develop ideas, fine-tune our prose, and keep us on task. We know how easy it is to get “sucked in” to our other duties—teaching, administration, service. Our writing often goes on the back burner, but it needs to become a priority. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen, and before you know it, that article you’ve been working on will gather more dust than you can handle. The most effective way to ensure that you gain momentum (and keep it) is through peer writing groups.

The Benefits of Peer Writing Groups

  • It’s an opportunity to discuss ideas at all stages of development. You know that article is going to get a review from experts in the field before it’s accepted for publication. If you begin that process in a writing group, even with people in different disciplines, they can help you get it ready for a more “official” peer review.
  • Your peers offer a fresh perspective. We have all gotten to the point with a piece of writing where we can no longer “see” it clearly. We need distance and a fresh pair of eyes.
  • You learn about what others are working on. Your colleagues provide inspiration and knowledge (which is the whole idea behind conferences, right?). Chances are your peers will know of a resource that is just what you need at just the right time.
  • These groups facilitate time management because this scheduled time allows you to say no to other things because you are already committed.
  • Your peers provide emotional support and encouragement. Let’s face it. Writing can be exhausting, and we need moral support.

Okay, so, the benefits are clear, but you might be thinking that the logistics are murky. How do we start one of these groups? How often should we meet? Is this going to be yet another meeting to attend? The most important thing to do is to find people who are interested in participating and go from there. Establish your own rules and guidelines based on the needs of the group. There is no reason this should become another chore; it should be fun and mutually beneficial.

The Logistics of Peer Writing Groups

Since groups like this can be created and maintained in many different ways, I will share some basic principles/tips that worked for the group I am currently participating in.

  • Find colleagues who are interested in dedicating regular time to research and writing and want/need accountability. Send an email to your department, bring it up around the proverbial water cooler, or discuss it with others at a conference. These colleagues need not have the same specialty you do or be in the same discipline. They don’t even have to be in the same geographical location. I am in a group with peers on my campus, but I am also in a virtual one with colleagues in other states. They just need to be ready to participate.
  • After you identify some people, schedule a time to meet informally and discuss each person’s goals and what they hope to achieve from the group. From there, determine the following: when, where, and how often to meet; how to track individual and group progress; and what responsibilities members should have. For the group I am in, we determined that we would like to have a quiet time and place to meet simply to be in the same room working on our projects (I call these “moral support” sessions), but at other times, we wanted to share our writing and get feedback. Thus, we determined that we would alternate between writing sessions and discussion/peer review sessions.
  • Once you schedule a regular meeting time, create a calendar and a place to share materials, due dates, and goals. We use Google calendar to allow participants to sign up for discussion/peer review sessions. Once individuals sign up, they can email their work to the group (or use Google Drive or a similar mechanism). We use Google Drive. Participants post their material the night before a meeting (or sometime that week), and whoever has time can make comments. At other times, individuals have brought hard copies to sessions, and participants read and commented on the work verbally or on the hard copy.
  • Although commenting on others’ writing might seem like extra work, it really isn’t. Our group decided that we would not require individuals to comment every time someone signs up for a peer review session. Our guideline is that you comment at least as many times as you share. Thus, group members can participate as much or as little as they need to.
  • Depending on the level of activity of each member, six to ten is probably the ideal size. You want to have enough people to participate, but not so many that the sessions are mostly peer review. You need those “moral support” sessions too. If you have six to ten members, there will usually be at least two or three who can comment and provide sufficient feedback even if others can’t that week. In other words, those sharing get the feedback they need, and nobody feels pressure if they can’t participate that week.
  • I also recommend that the group keep a log of goals and accomplishments (this can be weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever works). Goal setting and reporting are vital. They allow you to quantify your progress (“hey, I worked three hours on that article this week” or “I wrote five pages!”) as well as see other people’s progress, which is always encouraging. Our group keeps a document in Google Drive where each member writes out their goals for the week (which can be anything from “write 5 pages” to “work for 2 hours on Project X” to “read three articles on Project Y”). At the end of the week, we fill in a report, which tells what we accomplished that week. This is done electronically and at the convenience of members who can be as detailed as they want (or not post at all). Again, members do what is going to help them. Sometimes we will meet our goals, and sometimes not, but the trajectory is always forward. Setting smaller, obtainable goals is the key to completing any long project, and this kind of documentation facilitates that.
  • Make sure that you keep this time and space SACRED. Avoid grading, meeting with students, or scheduling other non-research-related activities during this time. By carving out a specific time and place for research and writing, you are free to say “no” when you need to. Your calendar says “unavailable,” and you have made writing a regular part of the week. This is sacred time. For me, a defined schedule helps me to be able to say to students (and not feel guilty), “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t meet on Friday afternoons. I’m in meetings.” This keeps me from “caving in” to every demand and ensures that I reserve at least that much time each week. Our group schedules a four-hour session every Friday afternoon, but people don’t have to come for that entire time. Even if someone comes for only 30 minutes, that’s 30 minutes more than they would have done otherwise.
  • And, finally, take time to celebrate accomplishments. Schedule a lunch session, or bring in coffee and doughnuts one day. It’s great to hear what our colleagues are doing and to pat ourselves on the back for accomplishing our goals.

Regardless of the discipline—from mathematics to art history, from biology to political science—scholarship is the reason you do what you do. It allows you to engage with the material that led you to teaching.

If you’d like some more information about how to start a faculty writing group here at UNG (including grant opportunities), see the following:

http://ung.edu/center-teaching-learning-leadership/communities-of-practice/faculty-writing-group.php

This CTLL link also includes a list of electronic and print resources such as Robert Boice’s Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing and Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s article “Shut Up and Write” from Inside Higher Ed.

Other Resources:

The Academic Writing Club

Designed for graduate students, post-docs, and professors, this web site provides online accountability tools, peer support from academics around the country, and other resources to ensure that you meet your research and writing goals.

http://academicwritingclub.com/

The Writing Center @ University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Writing Center provides some excellent advice for starting a group, creating a schedule and establishing workshop guidelines. This site includes a “Writing Group Starter Kit” and other resources for students and scholars.

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/writing-groups/

UCLA’s Graduate Writing Center

Although geared towards graduate students, UCLA’s page, “Running an Effective Writing Group,” provides resources and guidelines that are applicable to anyone who needs to maintain a rigorous writing schedule.

http://gsrc.ucla.edu/gwc/resources/running-an-effective-writing-group.html

 

Feb 26

Mentoring New(er) Faculty at UNG

Mentoring New(er) Faculty at UNG

We’re well into the second semester of the year, and I’d like to encourage you to take a moment to reach out faculty colleagues, especially those who are in their first few years at our institution.  Many departments provide a formal mentor for new faculty, but effective mentoring is a communal enterprise.

Research suggests that mentoring networks are most effective to help new colleagues contribute successfully to our shared enterprise. Newer faculty members, whether new to the profession or new to our institution, look to their immediate colleagues for examples and advice in navigating the hallways and offices of their new environment. This means that they may not always turn to colleagues in their own field, but may, instead, turn to those in officesin proximity to their own.  Take a moment to drop by a younger faculty member’s office to offer an invitation to coffee.  You might talk about balancing your faculty responsibilities, suggest an exchange of classroom observations, or talk about your research agendas. In The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae, Kerry Ann Rockquemore writes about the power of communal mentoring:  “When It Comes to Mentoring, the More the Merrier.” You might also look at the CTLL UNG page on Mentoring for more ideas.

Finally, Mary Dean Sorcinelli and Yun Jung compiled a 2007 literature review of the current (at the time) resources and studies in the changing perspective of the mentoring relationship. In their piece,  “From Mentor To Mentoring Networks: Mentoring In The New Academy,” the authors provide sources, models, and studies for the new concept of “communal” or “constellation” mentorship for the academy.  I encourage you to peruse at least their resources, especially if you’re interested in supporting your colleagues and institution in this fashion.

Further Reading:

Kennedy, Kit. “Mentoring: A network of gratitude.” Serials Review 1993: 5. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. Permalink

Sorcinelli, Mary Deane, and Yun Jung. “From Mentor To Mentoring Networks: Mentoring In The New Academy.” Change 39.6 (2007): 58-61. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. Permalink

Mentoring In the Academy: Harvard University Panel Discussion (video, 55 minutes)